Healing Histories: An Exhibition of Medical Marvels and Curative Curiosities.

Yesterday I attended a pop-up exhibition at the Central library in Manchester displaying some of the rarest objects from The Manchester Museum of Medicine and Health archives 1. The exhibition was curated by students in the Art Gallery and Museum Studies Master programme, with help from staff at the Museum.

“Healing Histories explores the curious and inspiring past of health and medicine, celebrating discoveries, exploring the unappreciated and highlighting important objects that tell our collective stories.” 2

Exhibition space.


The exhibition was divided into six different themed areas:

  1. Medical Milestones.
  2. Unpacking the Doctor’s Bag.
  3. Toils of Labour: A Brief Social History of Childbirth
    and Women’s Health.
  4. School of Curiosities.
  5. Healthcare at Home: Fact or Fiction?
  6. Take Care.

I really enjoyed the exhibition and found the objects on display fascinating. The six distinct areas were well laid out and visually engaging and there were plenty of knowledgeable students around to answer questions as well as informative, well designed leaflets and postcards. Here are some of my highlights:


Leather Gladstone bag c.1910-1920.


Unpacking the Doctor’s Bag looked at the iconic image of the doctor and his Gladstone bag. It let us explore the world of the twentieth century doctor and the medical instruments they took with them on home visits.


Forceps – 1791-1876.


I also really enjoyed the Toils of Labour exhibit which consisted of obstetric and gynaecology instruments from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It explored the changing relationship between male doctors and female patients during childbirth in the nineteenth century.

“The emergence of modern obstetrics and gynaecology in the newly industrialising western cities of the 19th century is inseparable from the invention of new forms of male heroism: the gentlemanly, urban physician was now expected to apply not only force but also reason to the body of his patient. However, for the woman in childbirth, the first experience often remained pain. Which now without the exclusive, female solidarity of the “midwife”, often had to remain silent.” 3


The Embryonic Development of the Human Eye Lens – Late 19th Century.


The School of Curiosities exhibit included a rare set of late nineteenth century plaster models which represented the growth of the eye in a foetus from 37 days to six months. They were made by Dr Otto Becker, a professor of ophthalmology in Germany. They were made as gifts for honoured guests that attended the Heidelberg ophthalmology congress in 1888.


Lantern slides – late 19th / early 20th Century.


Lantern slides were used by medical lecturers as teaching aids, they were the precursor to modern digital presentations. The slides on display were used by Dr William Stirling in his lectures whilst he was a professor of Physiology at Victoria University in Manchester from 1886-1919.


Nurse Annabelle.


The Take Care theme was based on a fictitious nurse called Annabelle Bolland who wrote a diary spanning her career in nursing. It cleverly introduced the items on display in an interesting and unique way.

Nurse Annabelle had her own twitter account which I followed in the weeks leading up to the exhibition. Her tweets included excerpts from her diary and witty, amusing insights.

“Do you like my profile pic? My friend Margaret did it! I wish Instagram already exsisted in the 20th century.
#takecare #nurse” 4

The way the event utilised social media to generate interest was one of the most fascinating and enjoyable aspects for me. I first heard about the exhibition on twitter5 two months before it took place. Every few days I was given a sneaky glimpse of an object that would be going on display asking me to guess its use or purpose. The tweets also gave an insight into what it was like to curate and install an exhibition. It was a brilliant way to advertise the event and I was really excited to see it by the time the day arrived!

I’m really pleased this exhibition gave me the opportunity to see some of the rare and wonderful medical artefacts housed in The Manchester Museum of Medicine and Health archives, especially as the museum doesn’t have any permanent displays or galleries and isn’t open to the public. This brilliant exhibition has whet my appetite and I would love to have to opportunity to explore the archives more!



  1. Manchester Museum of Medicine and Health website (http://sites.bmh.manchester.ac.uk/museum).
  2. Healing Histories website (https://healinghistories.wordpress.com/).
  3. Quoted from exhibit display.
  4. Quoted from the Nurse Annabelle twitter account (https://www.twitter.com/@Nurse_Annabelle).
  5. Healing Histories Exhibition twitter page (https://twitter.com/HHistoriesPopup).

A Brief History of Medical Illustration in Clinical Dermatology

Today medical photography is universally accepted as the best way to document and monitor dermatological conditions. Standardised full-body mole mapping views provide a baseline against which to evaluate changes in a patient’s presentation.

This is achieved by taking a series of establishing views which divide the body into sections, close-ups of moles or lesions identified by the dermatologist are then photographed at a higher magnification with a mm scale. The resulting images are then numbered and organised so that they can be easily viewed in a follow-up clinic or by patients self-monitoring at home.

UK based medical photographers adhere to the Institute of Medical Illustrator’s national guidelines on mole mapping photography; this ensures that views are standardised and consistent in all medical illustration departments.

IMI standard positions for mole mapping 1


The first book to explore skin conditions was Girolamo Mercuriali’s De Morbis Cutaneis (the diseases of the skin), originally published in 1572. It was followed by Daniel Turner’s De Morbis Cutaneis, published in 1714. These publications led to dermatology being recognised as a medical speciality in its own right.

Robert Willan (1757-1812) was an early pioneer in this new field of dermatology. He identified eight classifications of disease: papulae, sqamae, exanthemata, bullae, pustulae, vesiculae, tubercula and maculae. In 1808 he published On Cutaneous Diseases, it was the first book to contain hand drawn dermatological illustrations. Thomas Bateman (1778-1821) finished compiling the categories of disease after Willan’s death and A Practical Synopsis of Cutaneous Diseases According To The Arrangement Of Dr Willan was published in 1813. 2

Porrigo favosa (disease of the scalp) affecting the face.

by Bateman and Willan 3


Impetigo figurata pustules on hand.
by Bateman 4


Willan understood the importance of medical illustrations as an aid to teaching the clinical attributes of skin diseases. He recorded the appearances of individual categories of lesions in great detail. The illustrations proved very popular and all future dermatological skin atlases and publications have included illustrations or clinical photographs. 5

The earliest known medical photograph is a calotype of a woman with a large goitre taken in 1847 by Scottish photographers Robert Adamson (1821-1848) and David Octavius Hill (1802-1870). They opened the first photographic studio in Scotland and predominately photographed studio portraits as well as landscapes and urban scenes. It has been suggested that the medical photograph was a one-off taken for a doctor they had photographed who had an interest in goitres. 6

Woman with goitre
by Hill and Adamson 7


The first dedicated photographic atlas of dermatological disease was published in 1865 by Alexander John Balmanno Squire (1836-1908). Squire was chief of surgery and medicine for the British Hospital for Diseases of the Skin in London. He produced a three part series called Photographs (coloured from life) of the Diseases of the Skin. The atlas included 12 hand coloured albumin prints. 8

Squire wrote in his introduction:

“The great difficulty hitherto experienced in producing illustrations adequately portraying the various diseases of the skin, induced me to try if greater accuracy and more lifelike representations might not be obtained by means of photographs of the disease coloured from life by one of the best artists… soon became evident that excellent results were to be obtained by this means and that they might be rendered more widely available by publication”

Hand coloured albumin print
by Squire 9


Squires’ publication was well received and photography became the accepted medium to document dermatological conditions. Over the next century medical photography developed into a distinct profession and photographic views were standardised. Clothing and jewellery were removed from frame and plain backgrounds were utilized. More importantly photographers began to respect a patient’s anonymity by only photographing the diseased area of the body and ensuring informed patient consent had been obtained.



  1. IMI National Guidelines – Mole Mapping Photography (www.imi.org.uk). Accessed November 19th 2016.
  2. Royal College of Physicians – Robert Willan and the History of Dermatology. (http://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/news/robert-willan-and-history-dermatology). Accessed November 19th 2016.
  3. Delineations of Cutaneous Diseases. (https://prettypotache.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/thomas-bateman-and-robert-willan/) Accessed November 19th 2016.
  4. Delineations of Cutaneous Diseases. (https://prettypotache.wordpress.com/2013/11/19/thomas-bateman-and-robert-willan/) Accessed November 19th 2016.
  5. A. Bernard Ackerman, M.D., Helmut Kerl, M.D., Jorge Sánchez, M.D., A Clinical Atlas of 101 Common Skin Diseases with Histopathic Correlation. Ardor Scribendi; 2000.
  6. McFall KJ. A critical Account of the history of medical photography in the United Kingdom: IMI Fellowship submission. (http://www.migroup.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/A-critical-account-of-the-history-of-medical-photography-in-the-UK.pdf) Accessed November 20th 2016.
  7. McFall KJ. A critical Account of the history of medical photography in the United Kingdom: IMI Fellowship submission. (http://www.migroup.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/A-critical-account-of-the-history-of-medical-photography-in-the-UK.pdf) Accessed November 20th 2016.
  8. Art and Medicine – Photographs (coloured from life) of the diseases of the skin. (http://www.artandmedicine.com/biblio/authors/Squire.html). Accessed November 20th 2016.
  9. Art and Medicine – Photographs (coloured from life) of the diseases of the skin. (http://www.artandmedicine.com/biblio/authors/Squire.html). Accessed November 20th 2016.